I couldn’t wait for 2004.
In early 2001, I was a fifth-grader and had been obsessed with our solar system’s planets my entire life. But, thanks in part to the Internet, I came to realize our solar system is more than just the row of planets on my placemat. It is a dynamic system with asteroids, comets, and moons, a lot of moons which look nothing like the one in our sky, each with its own story to tell. I spent countless hours reading about them — the fiery sulfur volcanoes on Io, the nitrogen plumes on Triton, the mysterious ocean of water underneath Europa’s icy crust.
But what was I to make of Saturn’s moons? The best pictures of Titan showed a hazy, orange orb and that was essentially all we knew about it. Enceladus was unusually bright — could that harbor an ocean underneath its ice like Europa? I wondered. Iapetus was oddly two-faced, but the data available was inconclusive as to the nature of the yin and the yang. And were the rest of the moons hiding secrets as well?
I learned that a spacecraft called Cassini was set to orbit Saturn for four years beginning in the summer of 2004. Moreover, a separate probe would detach from the main spacecraft and land on Titan! It was official: for the next three years, no other year in my mind mattered more. The countdown to 2004 had begun.